Arts Happenings in December

The Nutcracker, Young Frankenstein, the Small Works Invitational and more.

Through Dec. 30

Homage to Women Artists

Discover historically influential women artists and contemporary “Women of the Palouse” in this traveling exhibition created by the Palouse chapter of the Womens Caucus for the Arts in 2007. Boxes form the structure for pieces featuring painting, collage, printmaking, sculpture, assemblage, photography — even textiles, like sculptor/installation artist Gerri Sayler’s take on minimalist Eva Hesse. Painter/printmaker Laurel Macdonald honors both Frida Kahlo, a Mexican-Indian artist associated with surrealism, and modernist Nancy Spero. An early feminist, Spero noted, “I have come to the conclusion that the art world has to join us, women artists, not we join it. When women are in leadership roles and gain rewards and recognition, then perhaps ‘we’ (women and men) can all work together in art world actions.” That spirit is alive and well on the Palouse. (CS) Chase Gallery, free, Mon 8 am-9 pm, Tue-Fri 8 am-5 pm

Through Dec. 15

In A Nutshell: The Worlds of Maurice Sendak

Where are the wild things? For the better part of autumn and nearly into winter, the wild things will be in Cheney, Washington.

A traveling exhibition of Maurice Sendak’s book art will roll into Eastern Washington University’s JFK Library and park there for seven weeks, beginning at the end of October.

In addition to illustrations from his iconic Where The Wild Things Are and other works, the exhibit is an analysis of the way the artist was influenced by the pop culture of his day and the Judaism that so infused his life as the child of Jewish Polish immigrant parents.

Unique to the EWU leg of the trip: Eastern, along with Temple Beth Shalom, the Spokane Children’s Chorus and a host of other local talent, will value-add a bunch of events, like “Jewish 101 for Non-Jews” (Nov. 2), a performance of Sendak and Carole King’s musical Really Rosie (Nov. 14) and a lecture by Rita Berman Frischer on Jewish culture in children’s lit. (LB) JFK Library, free, various hours

Through Dec. 23

G.I. Holiday Jukebox

Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre makes its biggest bid yet for the local holiday-theater market. In contrast to the past three years, when CST offered a handful of Christmas-show performances at North Idaho College, this year it’ll be a month-long run at the CdA Resort. In G.I. Holiday Jukebox — a revue by Portland’s Rick Lewis (The Taffetas) — a quartet of singers portray fictitious Hollywood stars as they do their duty by entertaining the troops with a U.S.O.-style show set at Christmastime during World War II. That’s right, folks, Santa Claus will be coming to town, and we’ll all be reveling in a winter wonderland — the performers might even get you up in the aisles doing the “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” and “The Java Jive.” (MB) Coeur d’Alene Resort, $20-$25 ($18, children), 7:30 pm (with some 3 pm matinees)

Musical Mantra

The Civic Theatre's new musical director has high hopes and big dreams for the local troupe

Ben Bentler signs every one of his e-mails with the Disney motto — four words that are at once a step-by-step strategy and a source of inspiration.

Dream. Believe. Dare. Do.

The Iowa City transplant and recently appointed resident musical director at the Spokane Civic Theatre says the Imagineers’ credo is a “way of life” for him.

“As corny as it might sound, I like to dream big and trust that the dreams could work out. Because if you don’t do that, you’re wasting your time.”

Bentler, 27, has spent much of his young life dreaming big, only to run into the limits of his environment. Back in Iowa City, a college town that swells in population during the school year, a close friend had long been encouraging him to make his way in the wider world.

That same friend, in fact, spotted the Civic’s nationwide ad to fill the musical-director vacancy.

“Iowa City has good theater,” Bentler says. “Very good theater, actually, but not a lot of community theater and not a lot of professional opportunities.”

As an undergrad at the University of Iowa studying vocal performance, Bentler had seized what opportunities were available.

He provided the musical direction, he says, for seven to nine shows a year in community troupes, not to mention later stints at Way Off Broadway, the Des Moines Playhouse and the Old Creamery Theater. There was also a hiatus from college when he worked with the Porchlight Music Theater Company in Chicago.

But those roads to success seemed more like cul-de-sacs after a while, and along with his friend’s urging, it was enough to get Bentler to shake a limitation of his own. Perhaps the most important one: the seductive comfort of the familiar.

“It was hard,” he says of the 1500-mile move westward. “Eleven years of friends in one town and then all of a sudden no one. But in some ways it was time for a change.”

A geographic change, maybe, though not one of focus. At the Civic, Bentler will concentrate on two specific areas.

The first is to “create a healthy vocal environment” and train the volunteer cast to perform demanding Broadway-style “belt” singing without damaging their vocal cords.

The second is to establish consistency among all the shows. To that end, he’ll be emphasizing a rich, natural, live sound that will raise the standard of production.

“There are three different sounds in theater,” Bentler explains. “There’s the canned sound. There’s also the sound where you cover the [orchestra] pit up. To the audience’s ears, it can still sound canned.”

“My hope is to open the pit up and balance the sound between the voice and the instrumentalists to create the third kind — that live sound.”

His first musical production is Thoroughly Modern Millie, opening Sept. 23, and already the Civic has taken some high-tech steps toward that goal.

“Their soundboard is Broadway-quality,” Bentler says with a connoisseur’s approval. “This is the first show that they’ve set up the sound cloud with different mics.”

Yet even the most lavish professional equipment can’t compare with what he sees as the Civic’s most valuable resource.

“I’m telling you, [it’s] the volunteers. They are my absolute favorite part of this job,” he says. “It’s impressive to have a huge group of people who have always done things one way suddenly trust the new guy who’s doing it completely differently.

“I can have the worst day ever — and I’ve had a couple of bad ones — and I get in there and everything’s better.”

Dec. 2-30

Margot Casstevens

Margot Casstevens is fascinated by the idea of impermanence — the notion that the moment you are currently in is one of a kind and can never be experienced the same way again. In her next body of work, “Seed Folk,” which shows at the Saranac, she brings that idea to life with grass. Casstevens has made casts of cupped human hands and planted seeds in them that, by December, will push blades of grass through the palms. In life-size drawings of human forms, grass will spring from the paper. This way, the exhibit is ever-transforming, each moment different than the next. Casstevens shows with Katie Creyts through the month. (TH) Saranac Art Projects, free, Thurs 12-5 pm, Fri-Sat 12-8 pm

Dec. 2-4

State Street Ballet: The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker is one of those phenomena that the Hallmark Channel might refer to as a “timeless holiday tradition fit for the whole family.” Technically they’d be right, although it’s unfortunate how blasé that sounds, because seeing the Nutcracker ballet is one of the more fun things to do around the holiday season (versus aggressive shopping, gift-wrapping and family functions). But, despite its fixed place in our holiday routine, it’s nice when the opportunity arises to spice it up a bit. That’s pretty much the M.O. of California’s State Street Ballet Company, which is known for sprucing up the classics with creative costumes, lighting, special effects and technology. This year, it’s joining the Spokane Symphony to bring us an old favorite with some new twists. (TH) The Fox, $16-$44, five performances at various times

Dec. 2-31

Small Works Invitational

The point of the Art Spirit Gallery’s annual Small Works Invitational is part altruism, part pragmatism. The works are smaller and less expensive “for the holidays,” owner Steve Gibbs says. But it’s also to get new feet through the door and new eyes on the merch. “We usually sell maybe the same dollar volume,” as other shows, he says, “but maybe to four times as many people.”

Gibbs says the show is currently about half- to two-thirds full and is replete with big local names, as you’d expect from an Art Spirit joint: Harold Balazs, Robert Grimes, Brad Rude, Kyle Pallioto, Jody Seline and — prolific but absent from the scene lately — Dan Spalding.

A great thing about Small Works, though, is that Gibbs uses it as an opportunity to bring young artists into the fold. Two who he’s excited to bring this year are Austin Steigemeier, a first-year MFA student at WSU, and 26-year-old Tyree Kearns, a sculptor. “I see them as having real potential,” he says. (LB) The Art Spirit Gallery, Free

Dec. 2-16

Sorry! Wrong Chimney!

Coeur d’Alene’s only community theater is cinching up the holiday season with Sorry, Wrong Chimney!, a play still popular two decades after its premiere. This family-friendly farce follows David Tuttle, a man who is secretly moonlighting as a department — store Santa Claus in order to buy his wife, Samantha, something special for Christmas. He tells Samantha he is working late in the office, and she naturally assumes he is cheating. Toss in badly timed phone calls, interrupting neighbors, hypnotists and some Santa burglars, and the Lake City Playhouse has concocted a slapstick comedy fit to usher in your holiday delight. (EW) Lake City Playhouse, $9-$17, Thurs-Sat, 7:30 pm, Sun, 2 pm

Dec. 11

Magical String Celtic Yuletide

Usual holiday hoopla got you down? Need something fresh, lively and different? Then do a little jig on over to the Bing. The Boulding family, together forming Magical Strings, is often referred to as “the Von Trapps of the Northwest.” Celtic music is in their blood, and they’ve been performing this festive celebration of “singing, dancing, juggling, caroling and storytelling” for over 30 years. This time around, not only will there be the expansive Boulding family performing on everything from violins and cellos to hammered dulcimers and harps, but they’ll also be joined by Irish dancers, vocalists and fiddlers. Bring the kids — the audience is often included in the performance and caroling. (EW) Bing Crosby Theater, $18-$24, 3 pm

Dec. 15-16

Young Frankenstein: The Musical

If you’re blue and you don’t know where to go to, why don’t you go to Young Frankenstein: The Musical? Mel Brooks — perhaps remembered best for Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs, and Robin Hood: Men in Tights — has adapted his classic horror spoof of the same name into this laugh-filled, toe-tapping Broadway musical. Receiving three Tony Awards for his work on The Producers, Brooks is no stranger to the business of Broadway. Follow Frederick Frankenstein (that’s Fronkensteen), resentful grandson of the infamous Doctor Frankenstein, as he becomes intellectually possessed by the late doctor’s work and creates a monster for himself, with hilarious results. Loaded with innuendo, it may be inappropriate for younger children, but fans of Mel Brooks know that is nothing Abby-normal. (EW) INB Performing Arts Center, $32.50-$72.50, multiple showtimes

Dec. 17-18

Holiday Pops Celebration

Feeling a scarcity of youthful, angelic carolers in your neighborhood? Sled on over to the Fox and discover the yuletide-tastic musical extravaganza that is the Holiday Pops Celebration. The Spokane Symphony joins forces with the Spokane Symphony Chorale for this once-a-year event and invites the harmonies of the Spokane Area Children’s Choir to complement their stylings. The result is a joyous celebration guaranteed to lift that bah-humbug spirit. Resident Conductor Morihiko Nakahara will lead the symphony and over a hundred professional vocalists through a cornucopia of holiday music traditions, from stunning classical pieces to traditional sing-alongs. Kick back and let your whole family bask in the warmth of aural hot chocolate. (EW) Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox, $25-$58, Sat, Dec. 17 at 8 pm and Sun, Dec. 18 at 2 pm, all-ages

Spokane Jewish Cultural Film Festival @ Gonzaga University Jepson Center

Through Feb. 5
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About The Authors

Luke Baumgarten

Luke Baumgarten is commentary contributor and former culture editor of the Inlander. He is a creative strategist at Seven2 and co-founder of Terrain.

E.J. Iannelli

E.J. Iannelli is a Spokane-based freelance writer, translator, and editor whose byline occasionally appears here in The Inlander. One of his many shortcomings is his inability to think up pithy, off-the-cuff self-descriptions.